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Artist heirs' lawsuit against agent's estate dismissed

Heirs of the American artist best known for inventing kinetic sculpture recently had a court rule against them in a fraud claim against the estate of the artist's longtime dealer. At least three of Alexander Calder's moving sculptures, known as mobiles, are housed not far from Fullerton, in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit blamed the estate's executor, among others, for involvement in illicit sales Calder's works without the knowledge of his heirs. The agent's daughter was executor of his estate.

But the New York judge in the case dismissed the claims in the matter as "an incoherent stew of irrelevance and innuendo."

The judge noted that the claims go back decades (Calder died in 1976; his agent died in 2008) and that the Calder heirs failed to produce records or witnesses backing their claims.

"All these allegations are so patently inadequate that the court can only conclude that they were brought solely for the purpose of harassment or embarrassment," the judge wrote.

The Calder heirs had asked for $20 million in their lawsuit, filed three years ago, according to media reports.

The heirs had claimed the agent and his estate wove a web of lies going back more than 30 years, designed to hide the financial gains of unauthorized sales of Calder works.

A spokesperson for the heirs said they "are definitely appealing" the decision and that the defendants should not expect to "go to bed easily at night."

The spokesperson added that the complicated, convoluted deception engaged in by the agent and agent's estate necessarily made straightforward explanation difficult.

A spokesperson for the estate said the agent's family is "gratified by the court's ruling," adding that the legal claims against them had caused distress and emotional pain.

Though these legal claims were unusual, it's not out of the ordinary for complicated claims to be made in the probate process. In many situations, an experienced attorney can help a family avoid probate with careful estate planning.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "People: Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears," Dec. 31, 2013

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